March 7, 2021 3:21:53 am
A Chief Judicial Magistrate court in Surat Saturday acquitted all the 127 accused booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in 2001 for participating in a meeting allegedly organised to promote the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), saying the evidence against them was “not reliable or satisfactory enough”.
Chief Judicial Magistrate Amitkumar Dave said the investigators had failed to prove the accused “were members of the banned outfit or that they had gathered there to give a push to the movement”. “The court has found that the accused had gathered to attend (an) educational programme and had not carried any weapons. The prosecution has also not proved that the accused had gathered for any activity related to SIMI. Even during the raids not a single member out of 123 arrested from the spot tried to escape. Neither do the seized documents have any relevance with SIMI.”
Of the 127, 111 were present in court on Saturday. Seven are dead, five are in jail on other charges, while four are bedridden. Almost all of them spent 10 months to one year in jail, subsequently getting bail from the Gujarat High Court.
The court also found that no valid sanctions had been submitted before court to prosecute the accused while filing the chargesheet in 2002, as required under the UAPA law.
Around midnight on December 28, 2001, the Surat city police had carried out raids at a hall in Surat’s Navsari Bazaar, apparently on a tip-off, and arrested 123 people who had come from across the country for a gathering. Police claimed to have recovered forms to enrol into SIMI, as well as banners, books and literature praising Osama bin Laden, plus handouts in Urdu and Arabic. It alleged that on seeing police, several present had chewed up SIM cards of mobile phones, which were rare at the time, to destroy evidence. SIMI had been banned for the first time just two months earlier, in September that year.
Those present said they had come to attend a two-day seminar on educational rights and constitutional guidance organised by the All India Minorities Education Board. But police tried to establish association with SIMI on the fact that the hall had been booked by A R Qureshi and Alif Majid Mansuri, the brother of SIMI national member Sajid Mansuri. It said the educational seminar was just a front to carry out SIMI activities.
After the 123 held from Navsari, four more were picked up.
Maulana Ataur Rehman Wazdi, now 85, was present in the courtroom on Saturday in a wheelchair. A resident of Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Wazdi said following the charges, they were shunned by everybody. “Nobody talked to us or listened to us. I have lived all these years with the taint of being an anti-national. Now we will at least die free,” Wazdi said, adding that he could never think of acting against the land of his forefathers.
Also present was Ziauddin Siddiqui, 58, a resident of Aurangabad who runs a pharmaceutical business and holds a diploma in journalism. He said his entire family, including his 85-year-old mother, spent a sleepless night on Friday. “They were afraid that if we were convicted we would have to go to jail again… Thanks to the Almighty the judgment came in our favour… After the order, we all went to the mosque and offered prayers. We believe the truth never dies, even though it takes time. One should be hopeful and keep patience. ”
Siddiqui, who spent 11 months in jail, said he first learnt what he was being accused of from TV and newspapers. While a member of SIMI from 1984 to 1993 (when the organisation was not banned), Siddiqui had “retired” from the students’ body at turning 30. He was among those who attended every hearing. For the last six years, those from outside Gujarat had been exempted from appearing in person.
“We were shocked to be termed anti-nationals. When we got out of jail, our relatives and acquaintances distanced themselves from us, as if we had committed a great sin. The stamp of anti-national not only ruined my life but also my ancestral business. Nobody extended us any financial help,” said Siddiqui.
Defence lawyer Adbul Wahab Shaikh said, “We are happy with the order. The accused lived with this taint for 19 years.”
District Government Pleader Advocate Nayan Sukhadwala said they would decide on whether to approach the High Court or not after studying the order.
IGP P K Roushan, who had supervised the investigation as the DCP, Surat South, at the time, repeated that those present at the gathering had behaved suspiciously. “Some of them were sleeping. Some chewed up their SIM cards.”
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